Francis presents ultimatum to Nigerian priests

What happened?

Pope Francis has intervened in a dispute between the Bishop of Ahiara, Nigeria, and the priests of the diocese. Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke was appointed by Benedict XVI in 2012. The priests have been protesting on the grounds that their bishops should be from the diocese. Now Francis has written to all the priests, asking them to write a letter promising obedience to him and accepting the bishop. Priests who do not write the letter will be suspended.

What commentators are saying

At Crux, John Allen said the situation in Ahiara had been “toxic” for a while. Bishop Okpaleke is “an outsider who doesn’t belong to the Mbaise ethnic group that dominates the diocese”. The Mbaise have “long complained that their fidelity goes unappreciated” and that Nigeria’s bishops are too close to a rival ethnic group. The Vatican sometimes appoints a bishop from another ethnic group to show that “the universality of the faith … transcends conventional tribal loyalties”. This time, that strategy hasn’t gone entirely to plan.

At Breitbart, Thomas Williams said that the Pope’s comments to a delegation from Ahiara diocese were “perhaps the most strongly worded address of the Francis pontificate”: he accused the priests of “an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord”.

What the local press is saying

Iheoma Hendy reported at buzznigeria.com: “The diocesan priests have claimed that the Pope was misinformed about the goings-on in the diocese.” The priests say that they are not against the Pope’s authority, but are worried at the speed with which the dispute has moved after Nigerian bishops advised the Vatican. The priests claimed they “had over time made frantic efforts to make their case known to the Pope, but regretted that those efforts were nipped in the bud by the Nigerian representatives of the Church in Rome.”

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